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Smith v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

January 4, 2018

ZACHARY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
RAMON GONZALEZ and KARS 2 GO TRANSPORT GROUP, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 1, 2015, the Plaintiff, Zachary Smith, was driving a tractor trailer owned by PGT Trucking Inc. (“PGT”), when he collided with a car hauler owned by Kars 2 Go Transport Group (“Kars 2 Go”). Although Smith was authorized by PGT to drive the truck, and was driving it on behalf of PGT, he was not an employee of PGT at the time. Instead, according to Smith, “[h]e is employed by a different entity and that entity is on a trip lease with PGT.” (Doc. 3 at 2). Ramon Gonzalez, an employee of Kars 2 Go, was driving the car hauler at the time of the accident.

         On November 3, 2016, Gonzalez filed suit against Smith and PGT in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. 7-1 at 2-6 (complaint in Ramon Gonzalez v. Zachery Lee Smith and PGT Trucking, Inc., 01-CV-2016-904091)). In that action, Gonzalez alleged that the accident was caused by the direct[1] negligence (Count One) and/or direct wantonness (Count Two) of Smith and PGT. (Doc. 7-1 at 2-6).

         On May 31, 2017, PGT filed an answer to Gonzalez's claims. (Doc. 25-2). Consolidated with that answer was a counterclaim alleged against two parties: Gonzalez, the original plaintiff in that case; and Kars 2 Go, which was added to the case as a counterclaim defendant. (Doc. 25-2). In the counterclaim, PGT contends that the accident was a result of the negligence (Count One) and wantonness (Count Two) of Gonzalez. The counterclaim alleges that Kars 2 Go is responsible for Gonzalez's actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

         On October 9, 2017, Kars 2 Go filed an answer to the counterclaim, which it consolidated with a counterclaim of its own against Smith and PGT. (Doc. 25-3). The Kars 2 Go counterclaim alleges that the accident was caused by the negligence (Count One) and wantonness (Count Two) of Smith, and that PGT is responsible for Smith's actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The Kars 2 Go counterclaim also alleges that PGT is liable for the negligent and wanton entrustment of a vehicle to Smith (Count Three), and the negligent and wanton hiring, training, supervision, and retention of Smith (Count Four).

         Smith filed no claims in the state court case. Instead, on January 18, 2017, Smith filed the instant case against Gonzalez and Kars 2 Go. (Doc. 1). Smith alleges that the accident was a result of the negligence (Count One) and wantonness (Count Two) of Gonzalez, and that Kars 2 Go is responsible for Gonzalez's actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior. (Doc. 1). Smith also alleges that Kars 2 Go is liable for the negligent and wanton entrustment of its vehicle to Gonzalez. (Count Three).

         On February 8, 2017, the Defendants in the instant case moved to dismiss this case arguing that, under the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, this action is a compulsory counterclaim to the state court case. (Doc. 7). This Court denied the motion writing:

Rule 13(a)(3) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure carves out an exception [to the compulsory counterclaim rule] for when “the opposing party's claim is for damage covered by a liability insurance policy under which the insurer has the right or the obligation to conduct the defense.” Ala. R. Civ. P. 13(a)(3). That is exactly the case here.

(Doc. 12 at 2).

         This case now comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion To Dismiss or to Stay (the “Motion”) based on the “abstention doctrine” set out in Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976). (Doc. 25).

         For the reasons stated herein, the Motion will be GRANTED, and this case will be

         STAYED.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Very recently, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:

The Colorado River abstention doctrine “rest[s] on considerations of wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation.” Id. (alteration adopted) (internal quotation marks omitted). We emphasize, however, that the doctrine presents an “extraordinary and narrow exception to the duty of a District Court to adjudicate a controversy properly before it.” Id. at 813, 96 S.Ct. 1236. “[W]hile abstention as a general matter is rare, Colorado River abstention is particularly rare.” Jackson-Platts v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 727 F.3d 1127, 1140 (11th Cir. 2013). “Only the clearest of justifications merits abstention.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Under Colorado River, federal courts may “abstain from a case if (1) a parallel lawsuit was proceeding in state court, and (2) judicial-administration reasons so demanded abstention.” Id. A “parallel” suit is “one involving substantially the same parties and substantially the same issues.” (internal quotation marks omitted). Where there are parallel federal and state proceedings, federal district courts must weigh a number of factors in analyzing whether abstention is appropriate:

(1) whether one of the courts has assumed jurisdiction over property, (2) the inconvenience of the federal forum, (3) the potential for piecemeal litigation, (4) the order in which the fora obtained jurisdiction, (5) whether state or federal law will be applied, and (6) ...

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